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Four volunteers convicted for leaving life-saving supplies for immigrants in a deadly desert

They face up to six months in jail, and five more volunteers are still awaiting trial.

Four women working with an organization that provides water and canned food inside the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to help border crossers from dying have been convicted of misdemeanor charges. (Photo by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Four women working with an organization that provides water and canned food inside the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to help border crossers from dying have been convicted of misdemeanor charges. (Photo by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A federal judge in Arizona has found four women guilty of misdemeanor charges for leaving survival supplies in a vast desert refuge on the U.S. border. The AP notes that the decision marks the first conviction against humanitarian aid volunteers in a decade.

The four women, Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, and Zaachild Orozco-McCormick, worked with an organization called No More Deaths to leave water jugs and canned food inside the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

According to the organization, some 155 bodies have been recovered from the desert since 2001, including 32 in 2017 alone. No More Deaths seeks to reduce the number of deaths from immigrants crossing over in this area, but permits are required to enter the region.

In the following week, the women will be sentenced, and they face fines of $500 and up to six months in jail. An additional five volunteers still face trials in the coming months on similar charges.

Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco described the refuge as “littered with unexploded military ordinance, the detritus of illegal entry into the United States, and the on-road and off-road vehicular traffic of the U.S. Border Patrol efforts to apprehend illegal entrants/undocumented immigrants,” explaining why anyone passing through the area requires permits from the Department of Interior. No More Deaths has been declined permits when they’ve tried to request them before.

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The group has also documented that those very border patrol agents have destroyed the food and water supplies that have been left in the desert for migrants, including 3,856 gallons of water over a four-year period. Refuge officials have adopted a policy prohibiting the placement of food, water, blankets, medical aid, or other humanitarian aid.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service describes the refuge as “big and wild,” adding that it “can be incredibly hostile to those that need water to survive.”

Longtime No More Deaths volunteer Catherine Gaffney said in a statement, “This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country. If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”